Booked a long vacation and can only take a small bag? Trying to fit everything in can be overwhelming. Refine your essential items with this carry-on packing list for a three-week trip.
Before you start: check the weather.
If your destination has had an unexpected heatwave, you can free up some space and leave your sweaters at home. Likewise, if a storm is rolling in, you might want to make room for a waterproof jacket. If you know what kind of weather to expect before you go, you’ll know what items you can’t live without.
Before you start: set a laundry schedule.
You’re not going to fit in enough clothes to get you through the whole vacation. Establish when on the trip you can do laundry. That way you can pack enough clean clothes to keep you going between laundry stops.
Sometimes plans can go wrong. Bring a couple more outfits than you need just in case you can’t get to a laundrette. For this list, we’re going to assume you’re doing laundry once a week.
Before you start: know your itinerary.
If you plan on spending all your time in the city, you won’t have much need for a swimsuit. Comfortable shoes are a must for any trip. But if you’re planning more serious hiking, you might want to take a sturdier shoe. Do you want to visit any religious sites where they might expect you to cover up?
Before you start, take another look at what you plan to do and make a note of specific things you’ll need. Plan on being spontaneous? You’ll need to pack for all possibilities or be prepared to rent and buy things once you’re there.
Before you start: check the luggage requirements.
Whether you’re flying or taking a bus, operators have different requirements for what you can take on their vessels. Check the exact weight and measurement limits. If your bag is over, they might not let you on board.
It’s nice to have a handbag when you travel so your phone, wallet, and essential items are close to hand. If you’re flying, check your airline requirements. Some may not let you have an additional handbag with your carry-on. If this happens, you could compromise with a travel belt.
You might have limits on the liquids you can take. A lot of bathroom products come in a mini form. Or if you want to be eco-friendly you could buy small pots and refill them with your favourite products each time you travel. You can also substitute a lot of your liquids for solid options, such as shampoo bars and toothpaste tabs.
Establish what you need to pack that’s 100% essential. These items would cancel your trip if you left them at home. It’s important you can store these in a secure but easy-to-reach place.
- Any medication you must take regularly.
- All your important documents for travel like passports, tickets, and visas.
- Your phone and wallet
- If you’re traveling abroad, local currency or a travel card so you have access to your cash when you arrive.
Underwear is essential but easily forgotten. Pack enough clean underwear to get you through to each of your laundry days. Make sure it’s all suitable for your clothes and shoes. For example, if you plan on wearing mostly shorts and sneakers, you can pack more socks in a low-cut style.
- 7-10 panties
- 5-8 pairs of socks
- 2-3 bras
Clothes: base layers
The best way to streamline your clothes is to pick a color palette. That way you know everything looks good together and you can mix and match as you go. Compression packing cubes are a game changer that will help you maximize your space. And don’t forget to take a laundry bag so you can keep your dirty clothes separate.
1. Bottoms: 3+
This could be a mix of trousers, shorts, and skirts. Pack a combination of smart and casual items so you’re prepared for everything. Even if you prefer skirts, have at least one pair of trousers or shorts for more active activities.
2. Vests/ t-shirts: 5
If you’re going somewhere warm, plan on being active, or just sweat a lot, you could increase this and have a top for each day.
3. Any extras
If you’ve defined your itinerary, you’ll know if you need to pack any special clothes such as swimsuits, beach cover-ups, or workout clothing. If you’re going to bring dresses, here’s whether you should fold or roll them.
Clothes: top layers
Depending on the weather, you’re going to need different pieces for your trip. For example, if it’s warm, you might wear shirts to keep the sun off your shoulders and a denim jacket for cooler evenings.
Pick layers that are versatile and comfortable for where you’re traveling. Consider if they need to be smart or casual, warm or light, and waterproof or breathable.
1. Layers: 3-4
These could be shirts, sweaters, or cardigans.
2. Jacket or coat: 1
These are bulky and take up a lot of space in your bag. You can fix this by limiting yourself to one and wearing it on travel days.
You’re going to need something to keep your stuff in while you’re out exploring. Make sure you pack:
1. Large bag
Take a versatile day bag to fit in everything you might need for your adventures. This could be anything from a tote to a backpack depending on your style and plans. Make sure it’s big enough to fit your essentials like a water bottle or a spare sweater.
2. Small bag
You might want a smaller bag for running errands or for going out in the evenings. Top tip: if you’re struggling for space, you can put the small bag in the big bag and use it as an organizer. For more ideas, read this article on the best travel purses.
Accessories aren’t always essential but items like jewelry don’t take up much room and can help extend your wardrobe. Essential accessories include:
1. A hat and scarf
In the colder months, this could be a knitted hat, scarf, and gloves. A cap is convenient any time of year to keep hair and sun off your face. A scarf can double as a pashmina in the evenings or be used to cover up in religious buildings.
Whether you’re sunning in the tropics or exploring a new city, sunglasses should always be on your list. Not only do they keep the sun out of your eyes and make you look cool, they’re a lifesaver when you’re trying to hide your tired eyes after a long travel day.
If you like to keep things simple, you can just take the jewelry you’re wearing and put it in a safe place at the end of each day. If you want to take some extra pieces, you can buy fabric jewelry wraps that keep everything safe without taking up too much room.
You’re going to need reliable shoes for your trip. It’s going to be hard to fit in more than two pairs in your case. You can wear your bulkiest pair on travel days to save space. Your feet are going to need:
1. Comfortable walking shoes
Take one pair that are extra comfortable and great for all weather. Nothing is worse than getting a blister and having no other shoes to put on. Depending on your plans this could be sneakers, hiking shoes, or high-quality boots.
2. A spare pair
In case your first pair get wet or damaged, you might want to take a second option. You can also take a more formal pair if you like, such as strappy sandals or ballet pumps.
3. Fun extras
Consider if you need any extras like flip-flops for your trip. If you can’t live without heels, limit yourself to one pair and make sure you plan on wearing them more than once.
Hanging wash bags have lots of clear compartments and are great for keeping organized. As soon as you arrive, you can unroll it and hang it on your towel rail, making everything easy to find.
Even if your hotel provides towels, it’s nice to have a spare. You can buy microfibre travel towels that are light and don’t take up a lot of room in your bag. They also dry fast so they won’t get the rest of your things wet.
As a minimum, you’re going to need:
- Shampoo and conditioner
- A toothbrush and toothpaste
- Sun cream
Don’t forget any hair removal or sanitary items you might need. Remember if you use razors, most airlines won’t let you take them in your hand luggage. For other items you may not have thought of, check this list of women’s travel essentials.
Skin and hair care
After the basics, fit in any skin and haircare products you can’t live without, such as:
- Face wash
- Hair serum
- Lip balm
Try to keep products to a minimum and use things for multiple purposes. For example, is it necessary to have a body lotion and an after sun? Many face creams have SPF in them, so you don’t need to worry about having a separate sun lotion for your face.
There are also nonliquid items to consider, such as:
- A hairbrush
- Hair scrunchies and clips
- Nail clippers or a nail file
First aid kit
There will probably be pharmacies where you’re going so you don’t need to bring your whole medicine cabinet with you. But think about what you would want to hand in a pinch. Top suggestions include:
- Sickness and diarrhea medicine
- Bug spray
Whether you like a full face or can’t live without red lipstick, don’t let anyone shame you for not sacrificing your make-up bag. Try to keep it streamlined with travel-sized pots and multi-purpose products. And if you’re wearing makeup, don’t forget to pack makeup remover or wipes to wash it off at the end of the day.
Remember if you’re flying, you might want to have some electronics in easy-to-reach places in case you need to take them out at security. The most common electronics to pack are:
- Battery pack
People always forget their pajamas. Take at least two pairs so you have something clean and comfortable to cozy up in after your big days of adventure. Make sure they are warm or cool enough so you can get a wonderful night’s sleep.
Is it better to roll or fold your clothes when packing?
Whether you roll or fold your clothes in your suitcase, there are pros and cons to both. Rolling keeps clothes organized because they’re easier to see. You’ll be able to fit more in and it can stop things getting creased. However, it’s time-consuming to do correctly, and if you do it wrong, you could make your clothes even more wrinkled. It’s often best to do a combination of both.
More formal clothes and pieces made from natural fabrics tend to get wrinkled more easily. Fold these in tissue paper to protect them and make the folds less harsh. Don’t put anything freshly ironed in your suitcase. If you don’t let it cool down first, the creases will set into the fabric.
What order should I pack my suitcase in?
Put your wash bag and any liquids at the bottom of your bag. That way if anything leaks, some of your clothes might be spared. Putting heavier items at the bottom stops them from weighing down on the rest of your luggage, which will move things around and wrinkle up fabrics.
Keep a separate pile of small and soft items. At the end or as you go, you can slot these into small or tight spaces. Put the things you’ll need as soon as you get there on top or in a separate compartment. For example, if you’re arriving late, you’ll want to reach straight for your toothbrush and pajamas.